April 11, 2014

Whisky Live 2014 Part II - The HFSM (Holy F*cking Sh*t Moment)

Yesterday we published our recap of WhiskyLive 2014 in New York.  It was a great show, full of some of our favorite drams, some new and exciting hits, and maybe one or two bombs.  But something else happened on Wednesday night.  We call it our HFSM (Holy F*cking Sh*t Moment)

Don't Judge a Booth by its Cover...

So we walked the floor of WhiskyLive for a couple of hours, bumping into buddies, meeting some of the legends, tasting whiskey.  One of the booths had a jazz band.  Ardbeg had wheeled in a huge green and gold "Trike" to celebrate their new launch (no they didn't actually have the whisky, just a huge ornate motorcycle).  There was also a very nonchalant guy sitting by himself in a booth with no signage whatsoever.  He was wearing a tie and hat and looking sort of lonely.  In front of him were five or six bottles that appeared to have been brought from home.  We didn't really think anything of it and walked by several times before taking notice.  Then when we started talking, we realized that we'd hit an unbelievable gold mine.

You see, the gentleman in question was Joe Hyman of Bonhams auction house.  He was there with some of the items that are going to be sold in their upcoming whiskey auction.  This is Joe.  Nice guy.  He happens to be holding in his hand a 1956 Jim Beam "Cleopatra Decanter".  We'd never seen one before.  Here are some more pictures:

So yeah that's a bottle of Jim Beam distilled in 1956 and bottled in 1962.  You know what?  It tasted nothing like Jim Beam does today.  Not that there's anything wrong with Jim Beam.  Actually for a low-shelf shooter, it's our all-time favorite.  But this was a very tasty smooth and nutty whiskey that had a very distinctive character.  So we looked through some of the other bottles on the table.

One of them was Seagram's V.O.  We used to drink Seagrams "Very Old" with beer chasers in college.  This bottle didn't look too different from the current packaging, so we didn't think much of it.  Then we noticed a tax stamp...

Yup, this particular SVO was distilled in 1942 and bottled in 1948!  That makes it one of the oldest whiskies we ever tasted.  This one was also very different than the current Seagram's.  It was spicy and round around the edges and had a wood component that's totally lacking from today's stuff.

So now we were really intrigued, and we started chatting with Joe.  As we did so, he began reaching into pockets and cardboard boxes and pulling out other types of things.  Stuff like this:

So now we're into a level of obscurity befit for a true whiskey connoisseur.  This "Little Touch Canadian Rye" was also distilled in the 40's (1943 as shown on the tax stamp).  We're not the biggest fans of Canadian Rye, but we'd never have guessed this stuff was from up north.  It had a big rich vanilla thing going on and was really excellent.

But hold on to your hats, because the big grand finale then came out of Joe's pocket in a mini-flask.

Details were on the back:

That's not a typo, this is hooch from the EIGHTEEN-sixties!!  We did some digging and apparently the "Hannisville Cache" was a famous find of nineteenth century rye purchased in Philadelphia in the 1870's by John Welsh, the US Ambassador to England.  A little research turned this up:

The Hannisville Rye has been in my family since 1913 if not longer. Family lore has it that the Hannisville Rye was distilled in 1863, was held in oak barrels for 50 years or until 1913 when it was put into the carboys. The rye was purchase by my great-great grandfather, John Welsh of Philadelphia who had served as Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, 1877-1879. He purchased these rare spirits along with some other friends in Philadelphia; The carboys were initially stored at the Merchants Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. of Providence, RI. The storage tags were stapled to the crates. The carboys were then moved to my great-father's summer home, Shadow Farm in Wakefield, RI where they remained until 1985, when at my grandmother's death they were moved to my parent's home in Saunderstown, RI. In 2003 the carboys came into my possession at my mother's passing. For the first time in almost 100 years the Hannisville Rye has passed from my family.

Well this rye was really unlike anything we'd ever tasted before.  It had a huge sweet molasses nose similar to some of the best well-aged bourbons.  The palate came back to the spice and grain kick of a rye whiskey.  The wood was very present but not over-oaky, which is pretty shocking considering the claim of 50 years in the barrels - which makes us doubt the accuracy of that claim (note that the above account did not come from Joe / Bonhams, but from the internet, so there's no check of authenticity to the anecdote).  The finish was clean and clear and very balanced.  Absolutely no burn, but a long cadence of spice and sweet vanilla and warmth.  Simply outstanding and unlike anything we've tried in a long time.

It was almost a shame that we ended up at Joe's table so far into the night. While these whiskies were obviously unique, we had tasted so many different bottles by this point that we were not at our best.  Still the experience of a lifetime.  Thanks Joe!  And thanks again to WhiskyLive!!  We'll never again walk past a booth of old dusties without stopping to chat!



  1. Great write up! Yes - a totally fun evening and amazing stuff on Joe Hyman's table. FYI - these aren't bottles that will be appearing an upcoming auction (with the exception of the Hannisville where a sealed 5 gallon carboy is on the block in the upcoming April 30th sale). They are bottles that Joe liberated to show us the light (why we want to be attending Bonham's auctions to score stuff like this). I'm hooked.

  2. Um ... This is crazy, but I live in Saunderstown. Did the lucky inheritor of this historic hootch sell all of it?

  3. Nice teaser on the last post SmokyBeast! It was worth the wait, what a piece of history you got to enjoy. I'll be sure to be in touch next time I take the ferry over.

    1. My. Jaw hit the floor when I saw this booth. My favorite was the 50s walker decanter. I didnt get to try the Hannisville.

    2. Yeah it was totally awesome. I saw that the Hannisville auctioned off for only $6,500 for several gallons. A bargain really :)

  4. Very intrigued by that Hannisville rye. One thing to remember with regards to the lack of overwhelming wood character, is that since it was made long before the legal standards for whiskey were defined, it doesn't have to conform to any of the rules regarding new charred oak barrels, so it may have been in a third or fourth fill barrel.